The Patriot in All of Us

*Originally posted on SportsTalkFeed

If there is one thing that everyone can appreciate, it’s an underdog. It is easy to stand up for the little guy, the guy who wasn’t given a shot until now because he was too small or too poor or didn’t go to a big school. We relate because we, the everyday people who keep the cogs of this country and its businesses moving, know what it is like to face such adversity and yet we would still sell everything we had to be in the same position as them. Proving someone wrong is one of the most exhilarating and relieving moments of one’s life. Doing it on national television? Doesn’t get any better than that.

Tom Brady was drafted with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Only two Hall of Fame quarterbacks were drafted later, Bart Starr with the 200th pick in the 1956 draft and Warren Moon, who went undrafted in 1978.

In his second season, his first in which he regularly started, Brady made it to the Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams. The Rams sported the last three league MVPs and remain the only team to win three consecutive league MVPs with more than one player (Kurt Warner 1999, Marshall Faulk 2000, Warner 2001). The Rams were 14-point favorites.

With 1:21 left and no timeouts, Brady and the Patriots drove from their own 17 to the Rams 31. With seven seconds left, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winning-field goal and the Patriots pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

Brady did all this in his first real season, becoming the third quarterback to reach a Super Bowl in his first or second season and second to win it at the time. I still remember watching this game. It was the first Super Bowl I watched (I was 7) and it was certainly one to remember.

15 years later, Tom Brady will be 38 years old entering his 16th season.

For most of his career, I hated Brady. I rooted for him to pull the upset and I rooted for him to beat the Panthers. He was the perfect underdog story but it was there that I began to root against him. I didn’t want to see a dynasty. I didn’t want any dynasty unless it was the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a Steelers fan, you are expected to hate the Patriots and Tom Brady. I gave into that hate for a while. I was young and didn’t appreciate the greatness that Brady has given us.

People will talk about how great Peyton Manning is. Peyton is an NFL icon and has set plenty of records, but it is worth noting his playoff struggles. When you consider he had Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James as well as one of the best offensive lines in football for many years and managed one turnover-laden Super Bowl victory out of it, well, that’s very disappointing. It is also worth noting that Brady was never given such talent. Brady had Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Randy Moss for a short stint and now he’s playing with Julian Edelman. Hardly a comparison to what Peyton has had during his career. Peyton has had a better assembly of talent around him. Look at what Peyton has had to accompany him in Denver these last few years. Brady is throwing to a former quarterback from Kent State.

Edelman is a top-tier receiver right now, don’t get me wrong, but Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders against Edelman and injury-prone Danny Amendola? Not even a contest.

For me, that is why Tom Brady will always be a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. This is not a bash against Peyton in any way. Peyton’s work ethic and attention to detail is unparalleled and his miraculous feats innumerable, but Peyton has never been the clutch player that Brady has been, especially in the playoffs. Brady’s prevailing quality during his tenure in New England is clutch and with far fewer tools to work with.

Only four times during Brady’s career in New England has a Patriot running back broke the 1,000 yard barrier, a barrier equitable to a pillow cushion. To break 1,000 yards in a season, a running back has to gain 62.5 yards a game, a modest total. Only four times has that happened, all with different backs (’01 Antowain Smith-1157, ’04 Corey Dillon-1635, ’10 BenJarvus Green-Ellis-1008, ’12 Stevan Ridley-1263)

The Patriots depth at receiver, particularly in later years, has also been a cause for concern, but Brady has never struggled. Minus his first year as starter, Brady has never thrown for under 3,500 yards in a season and never had his yards per pass fall below 6.2. If you exclude the 2002 season, it’s never fallen below 6.84. He’s thrown for over 4,000 yards for four consecutive years. Including his first year as starter, he’s never had a completion percentage below 60.

With those statistics, you may find it surprising that only ten receivers have broken the 1,000 yard mark with Brady, including none between 2002-2006. For four of those years, the Patriots didn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher either. Fun fact: the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2004 and 2005.

Yes, the Patriots won the Super Bowl in back-to-back years with Tom Brady throwing to David Givens, Deion Branch and David Patten. Peyton Manning was throwing to future Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Let’s not forget about Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley or Edgerrin James, who had 1,259 and 1,548 rushing yards in those two years. Which team won the Super Bowl again?

Looking at Brady’s introduction on Wikipedia is almost hilarious:

13 full seasons as a starter, three SB MVPs, two league MVPS (’07, ’10), ten Pro Bowls; led the Patriots to more division titles than any other quarterback in NFL history (12), fifth on all-time passing and career touchdown list.

Tied for most playoff games in a career with Rice, holds record for most playoff wins (21), record for longest consecutive win streak with 21 over two seasons, most consecutive playoff wins with 10, first undefeated regular season since 16-game schedule began, more passing yards and touchdowns than any quarterback in postseason history, sixth highest passer rating of all time (95.9).

Brady and Montana are the only two players in NFL history to win the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP multiple times. Only quarterback to lead his team to six Super Bowls and holds records for most Super Bowl touchdown passes. First quarterback to throw for 50 or more touchdowns in a season. NFL record for consecutive passes without an interception (358), highest season touchdown/interception ratio among players who’ve started a full season (9:1)

Brady and Belichick form the most successful quarterback-coach tandem in NFL history, winning 160 regular season games, 21 postseason games, and appearing in six Super Bowls, all NFL records.

As much as it hurts me to say as a Peyton fan, Peyton holds individual records. Brady holds the records that matter. Brady has done what has been asked of him, developing new receiver after new receiver from Welker and Gronk, to Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, to Brandon LaFell and Shane Vereen.

Peyton Manning has played with a top-ten receiver every year of his career if you remove his rookie year. He has played with 22 top-twenty receivers, 17 top-ten receivers and 12 top-five receivers.

Tom Brady has played with nine top-twenty receivers, five top-ten receivers and two top-five receivers.

22, 17 and 12. 9, 5, and 2.

With less, Brady has done more. That is the sphere at the center of Brady’s legacy. For Brady, it’s always the same goal but the tools he’s been given have always been changing. Not once do I recall him complaining about his supporting cast. Not once has he complained about his contract. He’s taken pay cuts willingly. Not once do I recall him lashing out at the public for the unfair perception of him. Not once.

Tom Brady understands humility. He understands what it means to carry a team for not just a game or two, or a season, but for every year of his career and his knee has blown out only once.

Terry Bradshaw had Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Joe Montana had Roger Craig and Jerry Rice. Troy Aikman had Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Tom Brady had Deion Branch. Wes Welker was there for a while, but they never won a Super Bowl together.

Tom Brady’s best teammate has been himself. The greatest dynasties are built on believing in your teammates. Even greater ones have been built by believing in no one but yourself (please see, Michael Jordan). Brady has done that to an absurd proportion and for that, he deserves respect.

There is nothing wrong with rooting against Brady. I still find myself doing that from time to time and don’t get me wrong, I loved the Giants destroying the Patriots’ hope of a perfect season in the Super Bowl, but there is something wrong with hating the man who has better exemplified NFL excellence than any player in the 21st century. No single individual in any sport has brought a dynasty to a city whose prior teams were lucky to eat the scraps off the floor. Not even LeBron James has accomplished that. No team has relied on an individual more heavily and yet still found success on the biggest stages. Again, no LeBron here.

And so, I mock those who say that Brady is a cheater for SpyGate, to my understanding a practice that was not legally against the rules until after the fact, or for those who point to DeflateGate, an investigation that blatantly said, “We have no concrete evidence” and is somehow justified to deliver punishment regardless.

If we’re pointing to tarnished legacies, let’s look at Drew Brees and Bountygate, a Super Bowl run that encouraged opponent disfiguration and mutilation. Do not for one second tell me that he did not know what was going on in the huddles of his teammates or what was coming out of the mouths of his coaches. Yet NFL fans have not blinked an eye over the toxicity and vileness that covers that Lombardi. No, instead, let’s look at the second-greatest quarterback of all-time and defame him for decimals of air pressure. How dare you.

In the words of Taylor Swift, “haters gonna hate”. No one says you have to root for Brady, but if you consider yourself a football fan, no, a sports fan, then you had better damn respect him because there has been no greater athlete in the 21st century than Tom Brady and to hate Brady is to hate all that we hold dear: the love of the game, the heart of the game and the underdog within us all. The Patriot in all of us.

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